Retro Movies: Ruthless People

By Jenny Mason

Ruthless People was released in 1986. Starring Danny De Vito and Bette Midler, this was a classic 80s flick. The two legendary actors starred as a married couple. De Vito played a ruthless business man (as the title suggests) – unhappily married and was ruthless in business and towards her.
The plot centres on Midler’s kidnapping which to everyone’s surprise bothers De Vito’s character not one bit. He is somehow happy they have kidnapped her and even dares the kidnappers to kill her. He was even planning on killing her himself. Watch the trailer for Ruthless People here.
This is of course hurts Midler and so she begins a campaign of revenge.  The kidnappers are previous employees of Sam (De Vito) and they cannot believe he does not care about his wife at all. It takes a few twists and turns, a blackmail attempt backfires and Barbara (Midler) manages to lose weight while being held. She also befriends her kidnappers.
The beauty of these films in the 1980s was the caricatures of people of the day. De Vito and Midler are both loud mouth actors. They are both not the typical Hollywood look and yet they were brilliant and over the top and funny in these roles.
Filled with the excesses of the 1980s, Ruthless People is a funny satirical look at the decade that was. De Vito played a Donald Trump like character and he played it well. Midler plays the frumpy housewife whose husband betrayed her more than imaginable. While 1980s films represented these kind of ‘mean’ business type people in a funny way, it also held closely to a set of morals.  This worked because the intended victim (Sam) was mean and happy and yet the kidnappers were kind. It had a man who was willing to kill his wife, next to kidnappers who grew to quite like her.
These are the contrasts and conflicts that made 1980s comedies so unique. Then again you can’t help but see a slight similarity with Ricky Gervais’ film with Eric Bana Special Correspondents. If you have never seen Ruthless People, you should!

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